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Oregon and Washington health leaders urge counties with low vaccination rates to take action

Three weeks after King County in Washington dropped its masking guidance, the county health officer recommended all people wear masks indoors.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The public health director for Seattle and King County in Washington said it's time to put on masks again indoors, citing the surge in COVID-19 cases.

“I’m recommending at this time that all people, regardless of vaccination status once again voluntarily wear masks in indoor public settings as an extra layer of protection to help us all stay safer,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin.

King County dropped its mask mandate three weeks ago, after the county passed the 70% threshold of fully vaccinated residents. Daily COVID-19 case counts in the county have increased to 141, which is a 130% increase since the end of June. About 700,000 people remain unvaccinated in the county, according to Duchin.

In a separate news conference, Washington state Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said statewide the greatest danger is in counties where vaccination rates are low. He said there is talk at the state level about masks.

“We are talking about this or Dr. Shaw’s mask mandate and also with the governor but there is no recommendation from the state or the governor at this point. But stay tuned, this stuff changes pretty quickly,” Lindquist said.

Like Washington, Oregon dropped most of its pandemic restrictions in late June after fully reopening. New COVID-19 cases have also increased. On Friday, the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported 613 new cases of the virus.

According to State Health Officer and Epidemiologist Dr. Dean Sidelinger, the delta variant is now the most common one in Oregon and a big threat to unvaccinated people.

Sidelinger said the statewide positivity rate for COVID-19 on July 1 was 2.9% and has now grown to 4.9%. That's an increase of 70%. 

OHA Director Patrick Allen noted that Umatilla County had 70 new cases reported on Thursday, and a 14.2% positivity rate for those tested for COVID-19. Jackson County had 63 new cases and a 17% positivity rate.

Allen said counties with low vaccination rates need to take action now and should bring back mask rules.

Sidelinger had a warning for unvaccinated people.

“My message today is to those who have not yet been vaccinated. You are in harm’s way,” Sidelinger said.